Racially diverse American suburbs still a distant concept, study reports

While racial and ethnic diversity is increasing across the US, suburban life remains largely the reserve of white Americans, according to new research published in Ethnic and Racial Studies.

The study from Princeton University is the first of its kind to analyze trends over 40 years using a consistently defined set of metropolitan areas. Researchers used census data and modeling techniques to investigate patterns of white and minority suburbanization and segregation across 287 metropolitan statistical areas (geographical regions with a relatively high population density) from 1970 to 2010. According to the findings, the suburbs remains largely dominated by white residents whilst many black Americans remain concentrated in segregated neighbourhoods.

Over the last 40 years, mass migration from Latin America and Asia has substantially altered the racial and ethnic composition of US society. This is clearly seen in central cities which had become a majority-minority (where no group constitutes an absolute majority) by 2010. In contrast, the study shows that suburbs remained overwhelmingly white in 2010. Whites made up 68% of all suburban dwellers (down from 93% in 1970) and Hispanic residents made up about 15% (up from 2% in 1970), while the proportion of suburban blacks rose at a considerably slower rate from approximately 5% to 10%.

Author Douglas Massey from the Office of Population Research at Princeton University said, “As people move up the socioeconomic ladder, they translate their status attainments into living in an improved neighborhood and in the United States, and movement from cities to suburbs has long been an important part of this process.”

Further analysis shows that the impact of income and education on reducing black-white segregation is about half that of their effect on Hispanic-white segregation. Hispanics appear to use their socio-economic achievements to move into suburban areas and consequently reduce their segregation in society. In contrast, blacks seem unable to do so and they remain the most segregated minority group in the US today.

Author Massey further said, “Hispanics and Asians are indeed following this well-established pathway to improved living conditions, however African Americans seem largely unable to translate their educational and income gains into suburban residence. Moreover, wherever they live, for African Americans their improved status attainments have much less effect on improving their societal integration when compared to other racial or ethnic groups.”